Archive for the 'Reviews' Category


Robert Pollard – Space City Kicks

On this very special January the 17th, we at Ears are Tourists have decided to give you, our special reader, the possibility to speak up about a new release. Since announcing the album at issue, Robert Pollard’s new effort Space City Kicks, we have recieved plenty of opinions. What follows is a compendium of thoughts on the lastest work by the indie magician of Ohio [sugary description required as to tone down the overall editorial agressivity of most reviews posted on here]

– – – – – – – – – – –

“I’d like to raise a question about Robert Pollard’s wardrobe and his general image. We know he likes to wear shirts with awkward roses sewed on ’em and that he used to party dressed as a washed up country dope; but this is too much. A shirt with a red heart stitched on its breast pocket? That’s painful. I guess he just stepped off his Carpet of Love. Quirks aside, I reckon this is the most decent Pollard photo in any of his covers yet. See, it wasn’t so hard not to look like a 60-year old man dying of cancer or like a cocky posh suburbs dad. The cover for Space City Kicks is quite decent, at least they put some effort into it, something that cannot be said of last year’s Moses on a Snail, a terrible sight, worthy of being sold in the filthiest of gas stations. I’m confused though by the placement of a suitcase next to Pollard. I thought he had already gone off to business in a previous release? What about” [text cut off due to severe hyperlink masturbation; also, writer confessed not having heard the record yet]

Amy Joubert, Massapequa, Long Island, NY

– – –

“What the heck, Bob. Man must be getting older becuz I barely required a dictionary to understand the song titles this time around. LOL. Thankfully the record is filled with good stuff. Not very obscure, but accessible material. There’s a couple of generic misfires (a tradition of Pollard) but it is solid. The Elephant Jokes album is still the best thing he’s done in the last several years. Now Bob since you’re such a rock star get your ass on a plane and tour the world, we’ve waited long enough to see your spacey karate-kicks!”

Macedonio Fernández, Buenos Aires, Argentina

“Bob’s been a good ole pal of mine for quite a few years now. Besides being the master of American ale drinking, the man can rock. He’s one of those 60s kids who grabbed the guitar at ten and started composing stuff right away, you know, same for me, I couldn’t contain the urge to play all by myself, but then I hit the road and went to Seattle. Bob however decided for reasons that are unknown to me to stay and rot in a shoddy town. No offense to Bob or anyone but you ever been to Montgomery County, OH? Place’s a friggin’ shit-hole. Oh and by the way, once, when pumped after a show (his body cannot get really intoxicated anymore), Bob confessed to me most of the songs he comes up with are in fact instilled into his brain by swift UFOS surrounding the Dayton area. Anyhow the man’s extraordinary as he showed in last year’s Moses on a Snail, which, as I already stated elsewhere, is a masterful recording full of substance and finesse. Bob continues to be a tremendous musician in his new album Space City Kicks. He succeeds best when he gets into a heavy metal vein – listen to the title track and don’t tell me you don’t dig those whamming guitars. Or in “Sex She Said”, he conjures up a decaying milieu which becomes progressively intense once more shredding guitars come in. “Picture a Star” is also ominous and hard, and “Getting Going” is one groovy rocking song. There’s some other tunes that I don’t particularly recall right now but that’s not important really, after all Bob’s at his best when being himself. I guess you have to meet him to experience that, his anima, such a great guy. That time we both went on stage and ripped The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” up was a personal milestone.”

Eddie Vedder, Seattle, WA

– – –

“Sigh. Here we go again, the quarterly commentary on the new Robert Pollard album. I really wish he would stop fucking around and trying to ruin his mostly creative songwriting. The man’s motivations are fucking murky, something which puzzles me to no end. I mean what the fuck, you’ve got brilliant melodies such as “Something Strawberry” or “I Wanna Be Your Man on the Moon” but you interrupt them to take pleasure in disjointed, unpleasant wrecks such as “Picture a Star” and “Children Ships”. The lo-fi charm of GbV is longtime gone, you hack. Not that I’m much of a fan of GbV, it seems there’s assholes who dig “Kicker of Elves” and other jokey cuts of theirs. I tried to swallow those Suitcase compilations and nearly puked. Preposterous stuff. Pollard should save the dark weird nonsense for his Circus Devils albums (which in truth nobody listens to) instead. In those GbV days if Pollard fussed about his 767 lo-fi bathroom guitar compositions I guess they either gave him a beer or let him place a couple in an EP or even in album (who cared, you knew you were going to skip that track anyway) but now there’s no Tobin Sprout or Doug Gillard or whoever to hinder his thirst for shenanigans and we get this mess. Nobody wants to hear “Spill the Blues” or “Into It”, it’s boring. Material like “Mr. Fantastic Must Die” or “Woman to Fly” prevents me from entirely giving up on Pollard but I feel like kicking him in the face.

PS: Also this review can be almost exactly applied to any of his post 2001 solo releases.”

Edward Bast, New York City, NY

– – –

“Pollard continues his streak of brilliant releases. One has to admire his guts, a rare trait in the music business nowadays. His records are quite the expedition into the realm of nonconformity, in which anything is valid, music is startling besides quality, there’s room for nakedness and for fury, for all kinds of human emotions. No current band is able to come up with hooks so sweet as those in “Something Strawberry” (psychedelic pop perfection) or “Touch me in the Right Place” (so instantly memorable) and sound so unforced and natural. The DIY, lo-fi quality of the recording implies honesty and lack of bullshit and benefits the quieter, folkier cuts (such as the beautiful “Gone Hoping”). His musical taste is clear and all over the place: from the Kinks to Judas Priest. The sonic assault these eighteen cuts represent screams for repeated listens: all Pollard albums seem harmless at first, take a while to get into your skin. Then you find yourself humming songs whilst cleaning your toilet or having sex with your wife or attending other bands’ concerts, tunes you aren’t able to place or recognize, until it hits you: they’re off the new Robert Pollard album you chose to dismiss. You ungrateful bastard. You know that since your turntable lost its virginity to GbV there’s always a Pollard song stuck in your head; they can morph, they can evolve, they can change, but he’s always there forcing you to purr. So shut up, put on hold your exciting new Destroyer and Deerhoof releases and give Space City Kicks another spin.”

Vezetett vélemény, Budapest, Hungary

“Pollard continues his streak of subpar releases. The blatant lethargy displayed in many of the songs, particularly the “more intimate” cuts (“Gone Hoping”, “Into it”), is discouraging. “Tired Life”, for instance, is such a tiring tune, drags on forever. I know he’s not even trying (has he ever?) but does that disinterest need to be so obvious. Also Bob, lay off the hard-rocking numbers, you don’t play in crowded arenas, only hipster-flooded shitty ass redneck bars, and you always will, even if youre “followed by losers” haha. Bleh this.”, Raleigh, North Carolina

– – –

Space City Kicks is the new album by Robert Pollard, the lead singer of a band you maybe know called the Boston Spaceships. Although it has guitars this is pure indie music, made from the soul of a man who wants to manifest his passion of music to the listener’s soul. Even if the record is dominated by the pop, that doesn’t make it more light, instead, there is many rockings parts in the disc. It is produced by Todd Tobias (Sleeptalkers, Circus Devils, Kramies) and recorded in Ohio, in the USA. Interesting soundscapes are evoked: please try it and maybe you will enjoy this very special music.”

EsteladaSempre, Barcelona, Spain

– – –

“GENIOUS! Bob Pollard has done it again folks, he’s tricked us into believing he has recorded a new album when in fact he’s rehashing old material! People will argue it’s all about his genius. Albeit his brain must be shiny, over the years he’s set himself up as this “gimme a guitar and I’ll write you five songs in two minutes” kinda guy, which he really is not! He certainly is hyperactive, thats fo sho, but in his best interest! By putting out half a dozen records a year, there’s no way to re-listen to the albums and let them mature as they should! That way, he guarantees his releases will not be too strictly judged! The only folks who’ll listen to them again and again are jerky fanboys who are bound to love the hell out of it! Nice try Mr. Pollard!”

Nedra Carp, Surrey, UK

– – –

Thanks to everyone who took part in our little feedback project! Unfortunately no special prizes (a flock of dying seagulls) will be delivered to those who sent in their comments, as it had been announced, since they were eaten by one of our editors, who then proceeded to burp and die simultaneously. Our sincerest apologies.

Link in comments.


kim salmon and the surrealists – grand unifying theory

The recent whereabouts of Kim Salmon have been much talked about and discussed among the fans of Rock. Or so we’d wish. But the man’s kept quiet for a few years and therefore one has to ask: how does he feel? He’s been around, playing random gigs in Australian joints and continuing the Scientists reformation, but a new record was long overdue. Since 2007’s Salmon, a interesting (and sadly abandoned?) instrumental project, and the same year’s Sedition, a live album showcasing the Scientists’ return to venues, he’s maintained a discography silence. Until a few months ago, when this was released, the first Surrealists album in a dozen years: probably his strangest record. I’m aware they are possibly Salmon’s weirdest act, but still, most of their quirkiness derives from being tongue-in-cheek or just for shits and giggles, always residing in that awkward line in between soul and parody. But this, this Grand Unifying Theory, oozes strangeness in its structure, focus and, who knows, goal.


There’s two short opening songs in the vein of early Surrealist releases, that is, sleazy drugged-out punk blues with Iggy-esque vocals, much howling, guitar strums here and there, cocky words (“We are the elite, don’t blame us”), caverns and jack’n’coke. À la Jon Spencer, but looser. The rhythm section provided by drummer Phil Collings (that IS his actual name) and bassist Stu Thomas in them both is remarkably funky. Slightly different is perhaps the third track, “Rq1”, which has punkrockish, even hard rocker, leanings. These few compositions, which amount to nine minutes, turn to crumbs when the title track kicks in. 24 minutes of steady extravaganza, probably Salmon’s most ambitious stunt yet. After a bit of noisy distorted wankery (too extended), in which the instruments groan and create expectation, the bass strikes a solid line, soon followed by the wah-wah of Salmon’s fuzzed out guitar. Hendrix spirit at first, it actually evolves into some sort of disfigured, obscure Funkadelic track. And all the same, the swamps are ever so present: the muddy sense of Salmon, his very australian tone, remains. There’s a definite krautrock ambiance (only not as clinical), and the improvising, alternating treatment of the instruments also brings to mind electric (and funk) Miles and the European school of free jazz (there’s moments of little ‘tar noises, weepy bass and cascading drums that’d make you think Salmon’s a fan of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble – ’tis much more restrained, needless to say). The jazz conception is obvious, especially in the spacing of the trio. The fragments in which the bass and drums duel even sound stoney. And then the track degenerates, and it dies.


What could come after such mammoth exercise? Some more filth. “Pathological” is a draggy, sludgy blues in the tradition of young Nick Cave, female choruses included, “Predate” has a more furious pace but the same dirty approach, “Childhood Living” is rocky and catchy, and “Kneel Down At the Altar of Pop”, a hardrock superstar kind of title, features an excellent, jazzcore bassline. But I don’t know, man, it’s gritty and sounds all muddled and deranged. The album’s a fucking mess. As stated above, it is strange, but it’s just Salmon. I don’t know if he intended this to be a compendium of his facets. As if he wanted, particularly with the title jam, to revisit rock music, specially his own, which would explain the title. Two things are clear: he’s having loads of fun, and he’s cut loose. The result is not what could be expected of him – but it is. Irregular and perhaps not all that memorable. Yet, that’s partly the point, the aloofness, the detachment. The sick, swampy rock the Beasts of Bourbon championed is here (even their Stones echoes), diluted, but it is. Salmon continues to unfold danger. There is a tension, a sense of discomfort, when listening to his guitar and yells. In a time in which such visceral rock is not genuinely fashionable, material such as this is more than welcome. I mean, what the Drones do is nice, but it’s not scary as what the Scientists or some of them oz Amphetamine Reptile bands (King Snake Roost, Lubricated Goat) managed to evoke. Listening to “Revhead” and shitting in your pants. Yeah, that kind of thing.

Link in comments.


robbie basho – voice of the eagle / visions of the country

Since I reviewed that va tribute, here’s a couple rare Basho recordings that barely get mentioned and are among his best, briefly commented.

The Voice of the Eagle

Basho on full-blast mode. His singing voice might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and can be considered “excessive”, but this being post-Starsailor there shouldn’t be much nitpicking. And guitar-wise, there really is NOTHING wrong with the album. Instrumentally, it’s one of his more “controlled” records, though some tracks wander a little bit (“Wounded Knee”, “Blue Corn Serenade”) the intention is rather conventional. There aren’t any empty or skippable cuts here (most are haunting, my favourites being “Joseph” and “Moving Up A Ways”). All in all it’s sublimely beautiful – even if it is hard to connect with the spirituality of the record, one can’t deny its intensity.

Visions of the Country


Deeply affecting. While not as spiritual as some of his other outings, it features a kind of contrived epicness inspired by the same cover. The atmosphere achieved here is bewildering. The monolithic “Green River Suite” opens with Basho half-yodeling about Wyoming and his guitar flowing down a stream of notes; follows the inspiring “Rocky Mountain Raga” in which he’s joined by poignant strings as the picture widens and we roam around the Rockies; “Variations on Easter” is a more intimate instrumental based on the works of fellow guitarist Leo Kottke; in “Orphan’s Lament” Basho switches to a rather lo-fi piano and you can perfectly picture him in some shady, empty bar playing by himself and singing to the walls; he keeps the piano in “Leaf in the Wind”, an offering to Yma Sumac, though the song is way more nervous and whistling is featured, creating an eerie ambiance – it may be the darkest song in the album; next Basho is inspired by navajo chanting and celebrates the Southwest in a very energetic guitar-driven piece; “Call on the Wind” closes the set – a goodnight song supposedly for all americans, but I’d like to join in as well. Overall, ultra solid release, Basho’s voice continues to be an aquired taste yet has shining moments, and the guitarwork is simply marvelous. Also, it’s one of his most varied and accessible albums, music-wise.
Links in comments.



V.A. – We Are All One In The Sun: A Tribute to Robbie Basho

What Robbie Basho carried on with his pals John Fahey and Ed Denson in the 60s was a pseudo-guitar revolution quite detached from the rock’n’roll uprising of the time. Seemingly aloof to that kind of rabid culture, they did also forge a new way of interacting with the instrument: whereas the rockers found in blues the seed of electricity, the Takoma guys reduced to steel string guitars the complexity of avantgardish classical music, achieving their very own stream of “folk”. Their fingers eventually reached out to other cultural sensitivities: in particular Basho who, most of all, created an unique, style-binding musical endeavor in which the folk roots converged with not only European echoes, but also the music of native Americans and that of India. And eventually, as opposed to some of his genre companions, he sang. And very joyfully, I might add.

He was also snobbish enough as to steal Matsuo Basho’s name and make it his own. The fragments of still life and the passing of the seasons, the soul’s brief glimpses into the surrounding reality, which populate Basho’s haikus might seem alien to Robbie’s mostly overlong compositions, but the sense of instant poignancy and of natural reflection flows neatly through his guitar. And as the poet did achieve an timeless form of art, the musician reached, with his introspective excursions and ragas, the sort of soundscapes that have no age whatsoever. But, what of it now?

Basho’s influence is evident in the spiritual sons of American primitivism, such as James Blackshaw or the late Jack Rose; but also among broader styles of sound, specifically experimental wankery (that of the Bishop brothers and their band the Sun City Girls – of course) and freak folk. This tribute album is composed mainly of the former, but there’s also brief glimpses into more varied territory. The collection, as a result, is irregular: in terms of rhythm, but also (slightly) quality-wise. The opener is Steffen Basho-Junghans, who, as Robbie before him, incorporated the haiku master’s name into his, as if there wasn’t enough confusion. Since then Stefan has worked hard to imitate closely of Basho (the guitarist, not the poet). His oeuvre, though unremarkable, coolly enough starts where Robbie’s ended, so it’s sexy to imagine him as some sort of reincarnation. The guitarists hired for this album, besides Basho v 2.0, are top notch. There’s Glenn Jones, whose band Cul de Sac collaborated with Fahey in the 90s and whose own solo recordings are not to be overseen. The track he presents, “1337 Shattuck Avenue, Apartment D”, snatched off his last album, Barbeque Bob in Fishtown, is truly a work from the heart. Rousing. From the other side of the pond comes young Irish Cian Nugent, whose original composition is meandering, slow and a little boring. The (mandatory?) exotic flavor is brought on by Rahim Alhaj from Iraq, who whips out his oud to offer us “Baghdad AlThania”. And then there’s the more psychedelic band additions: the least accessible is probably Espers’ Helena Espvall’s lo-fi cello drone, “Travessa Do Cabral”. Creepy stuff. Arborea’s cover “Blue Crystal Fire” is downbeat and ominous but, as Fern Knight’s take on “Song for the Queen”, goes on for too long and ends up dragging. Unjustifiably tiring. The clear winner among the “sung” pieces is Meg Baird’s delicate “Moving Up a Ways”. Basho-Junghans wraps up the tribute with the most cascading and riveting of tracks: “Rocky Mountain Variations”, obviously inspired by Robbie’s record Visions of the Country. Junghans’ rendition captures awfully well the dynamics of Basho, eventually reaching a climatic bliss. It also defines the level of attention which is required to grasp the genius of American primitivism. Here, Junghans has successfully become the perfect Basho clone. Congrats.

The justification of tribute albums is something unclear. They fall into two main categories: those which actually re-work the (supposed) genius of the honored artist in a new and exciting way; and those that just make you feel like listening to the original. I’m afraid this release fits in this second group. It doesn’t have much balls, inasmuch as it niftly presents the various aspects of Basho’s music and its influences on different parts of the globe and genres in a polite, orderly fashion. As a manual, it is intriguing. As a record, it is definitely hit or miss, even when the artists’ enthusiasm is evident. Jones’ and Junghan’s in particular are excellent contributions and will satisfy anyone with a faheyan urge. Hopefully this collective yearning of Basho will spread the interest towards the mustached finger master

I didn’t die!
the end of a journey
is autumn nightfall

[Matsuo Basho echoing the current sentiments of Robbie Basho, as channeled by Stefan Basho-Junghans]

Link in comments.


Twin Stumps – Seedbed

Finally Twin Stumps have decided to release their ode to balding people, as the cover states. The material inside the album does go farther than this mentioned tragedy and reaches heights of sonic filth. Twin Stumps themselves define their genre as “downer”; and of course the one band I can think of who could be also classified as so are the Swans in their nihilistic heyday (early 80s). The similarities are obvious; both bands could be somehow considered “industrial” and “noise-rock” yet they go beyond those tags. The Stumps are overall a sludgy punkish post-hardcore act, whose production here (engineered by the Pygmy Shrews’ Ben Greenberg) is intentionally lo-fi crappy – but also thankfully clear and not as muddled as it first appears to be: the instruments are identifiable instead of being buried in layers of nauseating noise (it’s evidently not recorded in some bathroom but it’s been manipulated as to sound “muddy” – the bass in the excellent “Missing Persons”, for instance, is fuzzy as fuck). Yet of course the album is permanently noisy. There’s some loud, abrasive tracks, such as the shouty “Business Class”; sonic experiments, notably “Body Plan” (a collage of eerie sounds – which might or might not be a subway train, shots being fired and drumsticks being thrown against a wal); or just quiet, disturbingly reptile and droneish segments of bass/guitar repetition (“Lungs”; “Pigs at the Trough”). But it’s always noisy as hell. Some of the cuts are even catchy (“Drainage City” has an ace bassline; “Caged Emily” has rushing hummable crescendos; “Lust Murder”‘s guitar is absurdly memorable). The slowest motherfucker here is probably “Pope’s Nose”, which should become a protosludge classic. Singer/shouter Alessandro Keegan screams “you’ll never be what your mother wanted” and other happy remarks in an array of hate reminiscent of… the Swans, who else. I really don’t know what he’s yelling most of the time, but I suppose it’s nothing too pretty. Many are the Stumps’ influences. Screeching guitars and hammering bass worthy of Flipper, the pounding rhythm and vicious vocals of Godflesh (no really, Keegan sounds like Broadrick at times), the noise/feedback mayhem of Harry Pussy, the gritty reality of the harsher Brainbombs (I’m thinking “Anne Frank”), the atonal, insisting soundscapes of many No Wave acts; the doomish decaying ambiance of Nootgrush; all these bands conform the core of the Twin Stumps’ aural tradition. I believe they display more creativity and expert composition (not just attitude and noise for noise’s sake) than SQRM, Drunkdriver or other “noisy” bands of the moment. I’m not underestimating them at all; it’s just that the whole of Seedbed inspires such confidence and cohesion (by not being boringly reiterative) it’s hard to imagine punky noise rock being more consistent than this. The album leaves the listener exhausted and messed up.

And that is a GOOD thing.

Download here (from, a “band-approved” leak of the album).


The National – High Violet

Let’s see what critic-darlings The National have for us this year. The cover is a pretty accurate representation of what can be found in this album: some chimney spilling badly written garbly words! Still, it’s worth admiring, since it’s probably the best thing about this sorry excuse for a record. I tried to be patient and understanding, to put my woes aside, yet that wasn’t enough. Let’s do a song-by-song breakdown which will hopefully illustrate the problems of this album. “Terrible Love”, a cut about a guy who METAPHORICALLY walks with spiders and is lovesick etc., features heartfelt marching drums/guitar dynamics with some howling at the background and of course the affected-yet-passive vocals. The song ends in a mess of ugly noise. Kind of a downer, to realize that the first song already resorts to snoozing violin crescendos. This, worry not, will be the pattern for the whole album: and by pattern I mean structure, spirit, goal. “Sorrow” starts things off promisingly by stealing Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut” drum riff yet it notably begins to suck 20 seconds in. Once again a mawkish guitar goes along two notes while the Berninger fella sings about not wanting to get over a girl by saying, precisely, “I don’t want to get over you”. The lyrical genius astounds me, once again. Seriously, how are these guys not considered to be a parody of themselves? Sheesh. The tempo is as tedious as in the first song, and the violins surely appear in a most predictable fashion. Soon joined by a sugary choir. Aural massacre. I keep waiting for something to happen, but it doesn’t. It’s just the same mediocre constant of “notes” over and over. “Anyone’s Ghost” attemps a groovier, post-punkier mood, emphasis put on bass and drums. I guess is supposed to be catchy, yet it’s disstressingly formulaic. I can’t help but notice the drums in most these songs. They’re maybe the “best” instrument in this release, at least their treatment is not insulting, yet whoever mixed this put them on the foreground and they mostly end up being excessively noticeable and annoying. As if they were telling you how to bang your head or tap your feet. Honestly, I can’t get over how lazy this “songwriting” is. It’s not even memorable. I have 8 songs to go and I already know none of them will remain in my head for more than two seconds. All I’ll recall is some twingly mushy guitars, violins galore and some asshole babbling ’bout his penis, repeated again and again and again. What’s the point? Eh well, here’s “Little Faith”. It begins with the pseudo-sound of an orchestra tuning with an ugly electronic lo-fi beat over it. The mess soon evolves into a gentle obvious piano pattern followed by an obvious bass pattern. It’s the same song as before, only more “spacey”. Same development, only something DOES happen after two and a half monotnous minutes; the guitar and strings are left alone with the voice before the full band kicks in YET ANOTHER crescendo. Here the lyrics become more creative, even if they’re full of lies (‘All the lonely kids are getting harder to find’, that is not true. At all). Dunno, reminds me of a fully instrument fleshed version of “Such Great Heights” by the Postal Service. Actually, this album sounds very 2003. I cannot understand how some people can consider this sound to be hip, but more on that later.

“Afraid of Everyone” starts off with Berninger groaning and just plain chord strumming and high-pitched howling. After some of this boring shit they realize they’re going nowhere and decide to go for a more dancey tempo. The song is about a pussy individual, a former junkie, who has the bad taste of owning an orange umbrella. Yey. At a certain moment, it appears as if the vinyl was scratched or stuck (that is, if you owned this garbage on vinyl, something for which I’ll toast) since Berninger starts repeating “soul” to a nasty, disturbing effect. Following that awkward, eerie situation, they go all post-rock on us with an “agressive” guitar wanking up and down in the most unimaginative fashion coupled with swarms of hammering drums. Man, this is so INTENSE. Like, rabid! Reminds me of myself watching the DUSK and confronting my OWN ghosts! “Bloodbuzz Ohio” surely can’t be bad, since it features “Ohio” (which for sum reason I always relate to good times). Wimpy drums and approaching walls of gayish feedback stick around for a while and then Berninger presents us the most easy of vocal melodies. It’s hummable! A peculiar piano and some horns – or synth, the mix is so garbled I cannot at times distinguish the instruments, they all sound as coming from the anuses of the Dessner bros (which they probably are) – provide a triumphant echo for Berninger. After five minutes of this, which feel like fifty, the guitar gets all scratchy and offers a rockin’ riff and then more horns and then fuck it. Again, this ending suffers from saturation of noise. I guess they’re trying to “hardcorize” the tediousness of the song before it concludes with this method, but it doesn’t work at all, since we can see it coming three miles away. In “Runaway” they bastardize the guitar riff from Drake’s “One of these days”, but oddly enough the song is pleasant. There’s another strumming guitar and a piano. A neat ballad. I’m very surprised at this, it’s nothing special, but well constructed, harmless, not bad at all YOU SON OF A BITCH. They HAD to put motherfecking violins and horns to ruin it! Assholes. The National, you are evil. Let me explain this. I do not dislike violins. I think violins are super. That’s not the point here. It’s about their treatment: they have no range whatsoever. They could’ve possibly put the same sweeping string piece in each of the songs and nobody would’ve noticed any difference. Same with horns. If you hear one song with omnious horns or violins crowning over the vocals or guitars, it’s acceptable, even if it’s manipulative (yes, they’re telling you to feel all inspired and fuzzy inside). When EVERY song resorts to this, you got a problem. It’s evident these guys know nothing about classical music, and are unable to addecuately invent sounds inside this “chamber music” range they dwell in. I’m not fond of comparisions, specially since they rarely can be justified (and this is not an exception), but for the sake of it, take Van Dyke Parks. He does chamberish baroque pop the way it should be done. I might loathe that music style, but at least I can appreciate his inventiveness, its intelligence. There are actual compositions. But this, is is just so CHEAP. Yes, that is the word. Cheap. I get it the first time. Now fuck me!

“Conversation 16”, which features Berninger telling the harrowing tale of him being a bad person, further consolidates The National as masters of continiously unoriginal snoozefests. This might very well be the most decent song in here, even if it resorts to the same pattern explained above; boring guitar (“nee-noo-nee-noo”) gets abandoned by the rest of instruments, the singer utters something trascendental and then the band kicks in in a beautifully vomitive amalgam of sugar-coated noises. Listen to this choirish howling, it sounds as if a killer whale was having its dick chopped off. Still, it’s not awful. If I was at home, taking a shit, and heard this on the radio, I’d probably laugh ’til my nostrils hurt at its pretentiousness, but I wouldn’t shut the fucker off, it’s the kind of music that can be pleasantly ignored. “England” features the same tempo as all the songs above it, and for this special occasion, The National crank out a particular, exotic instrument for y’all to enjoy. More violins. The record should have been titled Here’s Where the Strings Come In (apologies to Superchunk) instead of Hay, Violated, that is, High Violet. Still, they must’ve been high on Barney the dinosaur’s semen in order to release this (apologies for this gross image, the saur is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of violet). Speaking of which, Coldplay have a song named “Violet Hill”, which is fortunate, since it could’ve perfectly fit in this National album. Oh yes, I just compared both these bands. Actually I’d rather listen to Coldplay, they’re more consciously mainstream and not as convoluted. Hey! You know what’s violet and also sucks? Yer mama’s lips!

Okay, you get the idea, I wouldn’t want to get crass. It all comes down to wheter you “enjoy” this sound or not. It’s just that I happen not to. I am mostly angry a The National for attempting to shove this album up people’s minds. And it seems as if most are loving it, something which I cannot, in any way, understand. I know many other popular acts nowadays (such as the Tindersticks or the Antlers, which I don’t like much) resort to this so-called “chamber pop” crescendo-based music with obnoxious vocals. Yet it’s just so unoriginal, so uninventive, I feel as if I’m dumber after suffering through this. I’m frustrated and annoyed at the fact that some might consider this to be “teh shit” of todays indie pop/rock. It’s not rocking (shows absolute lack of balls and the guitars are used to sleepy effect), and it’s not poppy (unmemorable melodies, half-assed instrument interplay), it’s just a stream of very mellow and derivative drone. Honestly, you can’t expect much from the guys who did “Boxer”, but supposedly they should be getting “better” as musicians. This shows otherwise: they resort to formulas, un-inspired cliches and lazy songwriting. I believe “Alligator” has a couple of decent songs (with potential) but this is just offensive. Humdrum pedestrian manipulative diarrhea for young adults.


Michael Gira – ‘I Am Not Insane’

A few years ago, whilst listening to the Swans, I died. “A Screw” from Public Castration is a Good Idea did it. In the midst of depression, it’s not as if had the energy to get up and commit suicide, that’d been too much from my part: deliciously enough, the music was so over-bearing, it ended with my existence. Since my own death I’ve become weary of this Gira guy (ah mean, your excellency Mr. Gira). I don’t think the shady hat he got himself to appear more raunchy is fooling anyone. King of monotonous one-chord anthems, master of theoretical sexual degradation, present in most gothic americana-related nightmares, his cameos’ in one’s subconscious are met with both joy and tapdances. Now, he’s got the balls to declare he’s not insane. Thankfully enough, this new “album” isn’t called “I Am Not a Creepy Fuck”, for if that had been the case, no listener could’ve possibly stood for such a lie and Young God Records HQ would’ve been burnt down.

Still, what could he be insane about? Though his lyrics are usually not pleasant, he sure shows consistency. Is his dementia related to the re-forming of the Swans? Ah, indeed, that must be it. For there’s a reason behind such meandering introduction: surely Mr. Gira decided to drop the Swans monicker and become more light-hearted. Seems like Swans live shows had, by the 90s, become a standard in aural destruction (listening to some old live tapes, they really ressemble religious ablutions or infernal purges more than anything else), and mildly distraught by the forlorn faces of his fans, he called it quits and went on to create the Angels of Light. This new re-forming of Swans, according to his own words in his own webpage in his own internet, was required for him. He describes what he’s seeking for as “a tangible re-emersion in the sensation of Swans music rushing through my body in waves, lifting me up towards what, I can only assume, will be my only experience of heaven”. Unsurprising remarks, yet very moving. Still, Gira don’t fool no one. He has scarcely evolved in all these years. Form is one thing. It can be icky, it can be straightfoward, it can be shitty. It can morph, yet his soul remains the same. Nothing truer could be said about this new collection of songs. The good thing ’bout Gira is that he doesn’t give a crap about whatever surrounds him. In the early 90s, when asked about the “alternative” music scene, he affirmed he didn’t know anything about that, and refused to be “tagged” (it’s not as if he’s gone all indie-reunion on us). He does his thing, and as miserable as that can be, we all love him for it.

This album is, in a (many) way(s), the new Swans era starting point. We the youngsters, who hopped on the zwanz bandwagon when they were already dead, are of course highly anticipating the sight of Gira’s penis in the midst of a spiral of pounding drums and un-guitary guitars. Early speculation concerning the reunion’s first announced concert, at Supersonic superduper festival, implies they’d be back to their roots, yet Gira has said elsewhere the band will follow were Soundtracks for the Blind left off (and that this “re-formation” is not a “dumbass nostalgia act”). Either way, it’s gonna be lots of fun and laughter. Even if this batch of fresh songs will possibly be NEW Swans songs, their value in restablishing the Swans spirit is also monetary; Gira said the album will help raise funds for the “re-formation”. Apparently not much money is needed, since the edition was very limited and there’s no interest on selling a new batch. So, I’m not really overviewing the wholeness of I Am Not Insane, since I have no copy of it and cannot admire its almost-hand-made packaging or sense the smell of Young God. Here’s hoping Mr. Gira doesn’t get pissed off and rams a guitar up my ass.

But what about the music? Well, Gira has done it again. This is an enchanting set of compositions. There’s two ways to look at I Am Not Insane, some might think it’s a bunch of homely recorded, half cooked demos, others may see it as a work of unpolished genius. Well. I see it as nothing more than a creepy fuck at home with his guitar. That image will of course remind everyone of Jandek. Despite his morbidness and much celebrated (that is, until the release of this cd) insanity, Gira’s not an outsider at all: Jandek is (in the following order) more eerie, shaggy, unfocused, unharmonic and strange though, Gira’s way less obscure, and not as insane (if he’ll excuse me). Let’s just say Jandek is of the “what the hell!” variety, while Gira belongs to the “fucking hell!” category. However, both their treatment of the guitar as a “pounding” instrument (sometimes) and the vocal style don’t seem so far apart. Still, these recordings by Gira mainly breathe some sort of self-confident alienation. This is ye olde sick world of Gira, in which he sometimes embodies a god-like entity with the means of ripping the flesh of liars, swallowing sorrows of men, and stealing all oxygen. Humiliation, failure (the title of the final track and also the title of an old Swans track – consistency), weakness, love, the human body and deception are the recurring themes, as usual. The lyrics are definitely closer to late-era Swans, less emphasis put on sentences and repetitions, more interest set on allegorical and poetical significations. Not depressing per-se, but substantially disturbing. Still, of course, he achieves moments of beauty. I mean, for the love of gawd, take a look at the following words! ‘Ride your mechanical beast, hitch to the ultimate sin’; ‘I was born in the place where you kneeled / in the burning white sand / in the blood that you spilled’; ‘May I find my way to the foot of your throne / and may I find your arms ’round my neck / and may I find your little mouth inside of this bend’; ‘the sky is a yellowed vitrine / and my veins are now screaming with gasoline’; ‘[he] would gladly rip the throat of God / if only he could reach his wide ass’. The latter is probably the most comic moment in the record, only surpassed by Gira’s (unintentionally hilarious?) adlib at the start of “Opium Song”: “fucking goddamn motherfucker”, he utters (needless to say, the image of Gira cursing at his house with a guitar is just very amusing). The lyrics are, in a way, the most important part of this release. If it was just Gira crooning away, or no attention was paid to the words, the record would be as monotonous as an obnoxious, badly recorded Nick Cave tribute album. Yet, these lyrics! Oppressive, yet dazzling. Curiously, the most meandering (“experimental” if preferred) track in here is the appropriately titled “No Words” which is angular guitar strumming coupled with Gira babbling random sounds. He controls very well the guitar/voice dynamics, achieving a couple of shivering a capella moments (the ending od “Little Mouth”) and powerful lonely guitar chords – which I particularly enjoy in both “Eden Prison” versions, probably my favourite cuts here. There’s a guitar pounding at the end of the first “Eden” that is so mechanical it almost seems as if Gira was fisting a piano. His voice even becomes melodic and catchy in “Opium Song”; the duet with [unknown female] on “My Lazy Clown” is also an harmonic standout. Gira’s vocal style is disaffected and cavernous, yet oddly compelling. Those familiar with his previous (also limited) album I Am Singing to You From My Room know the drill. After a while the record (as anything Gira’s ever done) does become a tad underwhelming… the hammering guitar feels fatigued, some notes star to fall off… but overall it’s superior to most “neofolk” sub-products. This is not gothic at all… just plain dark folk. “Is this more of the same?” is not the appropriate question, since [who wouldn’t want more of the same?]; what we should be wondering is how these cuts will mutate into Swansongs. That judgment depends entirely on each listener; I believe there’s some with great potential (“My Birth”, “Oxygen”, “No Words”) and others that should remain in this raw form (“Inside Madeline” in particular), but considering the excellent musicians which will be involved in the transforming, I wouldn’t be much worried. Thing is, the whole re-formation thingy shows promise… maybe I’ll have to rise from the grave to assist a couple of their shows. Just imagine swarms of oozing drums and have a good wank.

Oh and for those interested on ART, ’tis yer lucky Gira. The music is complete alongside the 20 drawings he did on the happy occasion. Close your eyes and just try to imagine how Gira would draw, and you’ll probably come close, only erase all potential rabbits. The illustrations are fun though, I can see him as a snobby underground comic book artist. Particularly since one of the main focuses is his (I quote the man himself) “perpetually adolescent fascination with gross, icky things”. Right-O! The limited package also comes with a DVD featuring Mr. Gira hanging around, carrying out domestic chores and walking the dog. Which is something that, for the moment, I can only picture in my mind, while sobbing.

Download link posted in comments.

‘Come with your ears… leave with your ears!’

November 2018
« Jan